Last week, on Thursday, January 12th, Middle Tennessee Rep. Sheila Butt proposed a bill that aims to prevent food stamps recipients from purchasing junk food. The bill was subjected to heated discussion both by EBT card users, as well as multiple state officials.
The aim is to regulate people’s access to any kind of food that is high in fat, calories, or sugar and has no nutritional value. According to Rep. Sheila Butt, EBT cards are taxpayer-funded and she sees it as a mistake to use that money on health-damaging foods or products.
However, at the same time, other believe the country faces bigger problems than what people purchase with food stamps. Several state officials and lawmakers believe they should address the food deserts issue before tackling restrictions on junk food. Food deserts issue refers to regions with limited access to healthy food and grocery stores.
Patricia Neal from Knoxville says she receives $16 a month in food stamps. In her opinion, she believes Rep. Butt’s proposed legislation picks at people with low income and shames them for their food choices.
In her defense, Rep. Sheila Butt says that convenience stores’ shelves are packed with unhealthy foods, the same ones that have been banned from children’s lunch rooms in the past. On the other hand, Ms. Neal argues that the bill is going to prevent some children from being able to purchase things like other children have like cookies, candy, or ice cream.
“This is just another way of dividing them from someone else”, said Patricia Neal.
Lawmakers fielded questions from the audience during a Legislative Luncheon that was held on Saturday, January 14th. Patricia Neal was also present and asked the lawmakers to comment on Rep. Sheila Butt’s proposed legislation.
Jimmy Matlock, Lenoir City Republican Representative said he supported the bill, claiming the government officials have a right to dictate what people can buy since they have the funding. At the same time, Rick Staples, Knoxville Democratic state representative suggests legislators to first deal with the food deserts issue before moving on to banning the population from purchasing junk food and treats with food stamps. An official report shows that Tennessee ranks as the ninth most obese state in the country, with one-third of its population being overweight. Even though not familiar with the house bill, Sen. Becky Duncan Massey believes something must be done in relation to the Tennesseans’ weight-related issues.
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